Barking mad about ‘sparking joy’

The World Today Updated 30 July 2019 Published 26 May 2019 1 minute READ

There is a life cycle of the cliché that is as regular and predictable as anything in biology. When Marie Kondo first arrived in our lives and we first realized that, contrary to all that we had been brought up to believe, it was possible and even liberating to throw out treasured possessions, there was a freshness about her advice that did, in her phrase, ‘spark joy’.

There are fashions in tidiness, but this was more successful than most. Some of us got rid of a few things we didn’t need when The Life Laundry was on the BBC from 2002 to 2004, inspired by the before-and-after scenes of pathological hoarders given bossy advice, a skip, interior decorators and 15 minutes of fame.

The programme was popular and copied abroad, where it was called Clean Sweep, Clean House and Mission: Organization. Meanwhile new layers of junk accumulated in British households as the enthusiasm faded.

Then Kondo arrived, with her unique selling proposition: focus on what you want to keep, not on what you want to get rid of. Keep only those things that ‘spark joy’, she said, launching the phrase that shone and caught the imagination.

She was everywhere, although no one can agree on what to call her. She calls herself an ‘organizing consultant’. The newspapers call her ‘decluttering queen’.

Her phrase entered the mature phase of the cliché life cycle. Sparking joy is the English translation of tokimeku, Japanese for ‘flutter, throb, palpitate’.

It was fresh and vivid when it was new. Now it appears in sports reports. ‘Mario Vrancic came up with a winning goal to spark joy in the Norwich City corner of Villa Park, reported The Daily Telegraph the other day. ‘Just when a draw looked on the cards, up popped Clarke, who sparked joy in the away end,’ said the Sun.

And in the relationships columns. ‘Can the same principle be applied to your personal life?’ asked the Sun. ‘Make sure that the people you are connected to on LinkedIn are people you know who spark joy,’ advised The Times.

Now we know the phrase has reached the twilight phase. ‘Spark joy’ has been adopted as the slogan for an advertising campaign. We won’t endorse the product by saying which national newspaper has used the phrase in its adverts, but that ought to be the end of it. Let us never hear of sparking joy again.

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